What I couldn't know, is that even if I had imagined that Julie would open this question up to her corner of the blog'verse, that it would come just a couple of days after the worst campus shooting, in fact the worst shooting rampage anywhere in the United States. 33 people dead, more than a dozen others wounded. The tragedy at V Tech makes a post like this both more difficult and more timely.
I saw the headline on Yahoo News just after I finished my Sleeping with Bread post for the week. My first response was one of emotional detachment. As they news reports began saying that this was the worst shooting rampage in American history, I found myself surprised. Surely there had been shootings where more than 33 people had died? I don't know exactly why I thought this. 33 people dead is 33 people too many. But either the nature of the world today-- with the number of tragedies that happen leading me to unconsciously start placing them on a continuum of the number of bodies, from a suicide down the street (1 body) to the 229,866 estimated killed in the 2004 tsunami which struck Indonesia--or, I've seen too many movies with rampant bloodshed and carnage and I've confused fiction with real life.
I then moved to my usual irritation at the initial news coverage. In the first hours of any major event, there is very little to be known, but the News is there, desperately looking for an angle, hashing out theories based on little information, looking for "what went wrong," etc. I knew, though, underneath it all, that once I started hearing personal stories, the impact of it all would hit me. And it did:
- A news reporter chokes up as he, a father of what I assumed to be college-age children, described the emergency personnel hearing the cell phones of the victims ringing over and over again. He could not help but imagine a parent on the other end of the line, hoping to reach their child to reassure himself that his daughter was okay.
- The crowd at the convocation held the next day spontaneously bursts into the school cheer as the service ends.
- One young man, who survived the shootings without physical injury, describes how he and a couple of others, blocked the door to their classroom after the shooter left. He returned and tried to reenter the classroom. Their barricade worked. The student retains him composure throughout the interview until asked how he feels at being described as a hero. His face crumples, he struggles to find words. He can't. Mercifully, the reporter ends the interview.
- A 76 year old professor, a Holocaust survivor, dies because he is blocking the door into the classroom with his own body. When tragedy becomes personal, when those stories are shared, the larger impact becomes known.
All of this is just to say, that if you add the emotional impact of this tragedy with some raging hormones and an intense discussion with my son yesterday, I am feeling the need to treat my soul gingerly. I'd love nothing better than to go to bed, watch Firefly episodes and snack my way into oblivion. And I have no obligation to contribute to the round table discussion or I could do it in a few days. But, I am an ENFP--with an emphasis on the P. If I don't do it now, I won't do it at all. And I do want to participate.
But first, in the midst of what will be a number of posts on this subject, I want to manage everyone's expectations.
A) I am not an original thinker. I work best in the back and forth of discussion or the response to someone else's thoughts. I'm not sure how good I will be at setting forth any sort of complete, coherent, cogent position on Justice v. Forgiveness. Put me in a room with a group of reasonable people to discuss something like this and I would be great. A situation like that is where I do my best work.
B) I have, as an underlying belief, the idea that we humans are flawed--some of us more than others ;), but all flawed, nonetheless. I believe in objectivity but I don't believe there is a person on the planet who can truly be objective. I believe in Truth, Beauty, Love. These ideas do not just exist in the eye of the beholder. But I think we look through a glass darkly, to borrow a metaphor from Scripture and that only the Creator of all things sees, with accuracy and clarity, what real Truth, Beauty and Love are. Instead, we get glimpses of the real thing. We wrestle and grasp with the meaning of these ideas and we see little bits. I think it is important that you understand that as I say whatever it is I'm going to next. (Being an extremely unstructured extrovert, I haven't planned what I'm going write. I'm just going to start and that's how I'll know what I think.)
I began life as a lover of Justice. As my brain developed, I found myself advocating the cause of Justice At All Costs. Nothing was ever more important. Granted, I think I often confused justice with fairness, but on any multiple choice test, I would always have picked justice as being more important than mercy. This inherent love for justice was the reason I believe that the movies The Killing Fields and Glory ripped me to shreds. More than any tragic romance, those two movies stirred up a primal response in me. Tears flowed. I became mute with the inability to describe the why of my response. But, I know it was because of the injustice portrayed in the true stories of these films.
This led to me being a very vocal critic and self-appointed judge of things I deemed unjust. A minister has an affair? Drop kick him to the curb. He cannot be redeemed. Move on. A student cheats on a school paper. Show no mercy. Give him an 'F'. Kick him out of school. (There's was an awful lot of kicking going on back then.) You screw up, you pay the penalty. (And yes, I was a Christian even then. I just thought that I was capable of having righteous anger. I had discernment. I knew better than anyone else. You are right to recognize the hubris of youth here.)
Then life started smacking me in the face. I can't go into all the details of my laundry list of personal tragedy, but let's just say, some things sucked for me. And, in working through those issues, surviving them, growing through them, God did a wondrous thing: he showed me my mistakes, my imperfections, my screw ups. Slowly but surely, I started paying more attention to the Forgiveness side of things. I began to have an appreciation and some compassion for all those people out there--now identified as people and not just idiots.
Let me interrupt with a caveat here that I am focusing on justice and forgiveness at a personal level right now. Murder, Sexual Abuse, Tyranny. . . I'm not addressing things at that level--yet. (Or maybe not at all today. I'm not sure where this is going still.)
There is a parable in the New Testament that was always problematic for me. A man hires workers. As the day goes on, he hires more workers. He pays all the workers the same wage, even though some of them didn't work as long as the others. That story always rubbed me the wrong way. How is that right, I would ask. But now, even though I am still perplexed by the story, I recognize that it is yet another example of my own ideas about Life, the Universe and Everything not lining up with God's. This issue of Justice, what it is and how is justice meted out, is similar. I still believe in justice and that it is a necessary component of Life. I have just realized that my ability to determine what justice is is impaired. My own biases and lack of perspective, my humanity, mean that I could not always know what is just and what is not. Also, I realized that I had not always received the justice my actions warranted. I have been the recipient of mercy and grace on both the real world and cosmic level.
This place where I stand now does not mean that I don't believe there are greater things to fight for. The movie Amazing Grace is one recent inspiration to me. The fight, led by a small group--many of them evangelicals--to abolish the slave trade through the existing legal system spurs me on. I examine my own sense of futility at having an impact on the greater world around me and I want to pay more attention to how I can fight for justice in this world. But I still believe that the ultimate determiner of what is just and is not just is God. The imperfect vision I have may lead me to question at times what happens in this world. It may lead me to become angry at those who seem to be getting away with the evils they are inflicting upon the world. However, I do not see all things and know all things. I am not Lord of the universe. And I believe that God does see all and know all. Not bound by Time as I am, he will make right what needs to be made right--in the fullness of time.
And Forgiveness? Well, that is intellectually easy for me but personally difficult. Because I have been forgiven by God, I am grateful. I believe I am told to forgive others for the wrongs they do to me. I am to go to others to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs I do to them. But to do that, in reality, oh, that is so hard. I often have to forgive in principle and then hope that I am able to forgive in my heart as time goes on. And so on the personal level, the idea of forgiveness is settled for me, what do I think about forgiveness on a societal level? I'm not sure. I believe in mercy in society. I believe in discernment. All crimes are not equal. I'm hesitant to preach civil forgiveness for a child molester or a murderer. Whether or not the victim makes a choice to forgive, it is such a risk to trust the criminal will not commit another serious crime. I think my difficulty in addressing this part of the question comes because I don't know how to define forgiveness at a level greater than an individual one. So maybe it is best just leave this post open-ended on that point.
Ultimately, my answer to the question of which is of greater necessity, justice or forgiveness? I think it is clear that I don't believe you can pick one over the other. Justice and forgiveness are both necessary and both bigger than any one human mind can wrap itself around. But I do think it is a good thing to do, this examining of these big ideas. You never know when you are going to need to use your beliefs and apply them to your life.